WSOY and star author Sofi Oksanen part company
A long-simmering conflict between Finland’s largest publishing company WSOY and the star author Sofi Oksanen took an unexpected turn on Tuesday, when the publishing company decided that it would not publish any more of Oksanen’s books.
The decision was made by WSOY, even though Oksanen has long voiced dissatisfaction with the company.
“Conditions that would be needed to continue no longer existed”, says WSOY’s CEO Anna Baijars.
“We have tried our best. A publisher and an author need to be able to agree, and to respect each other”, Baijars said.
WSOY has published all four of Oksanen’s books so far. The most recent of them is Purge, which has sold 157,000 copies. Tuesday’s decision applies only to Oksanen’s new books.
Helsingin Sanomat has learned that one important reason for the parting of ways between Oksanen and WSOY has been the statements made by the author concerning the publishing company and its staff.
For instance, in early May, Oksanen says in an article in the weekly magazine Apu that “translation and marketing activities especially are completely amateurish”. She also wrote that “a monkey could answer the telephone of the CEO, and things would not go much worse.”
Baijars would not comment on any individual statements.
“This is not about me, but rather the whole company”, she said.
Hannu Syrjänen, CEO of the Sanoma Group, supports the decision.
“Perhaps it is better for both sides that the cooperation should come to an end”, Syrjänen said.
Oksanen herself saw the decision to be “quite extraordinary”.
She learned about the decision as part of an exchange of e-mails that she was having with Baijars.
Oksanen says that WSOY has violated its contractual obligations concerning a previous book. She says that the issue involves contractual conditions, but not money. “I think that this is a strange response to an exchange of e-mails”, Oksanen says.
Baijars denies that there were any breaches of contract.
There were indications of friction between Oksanen and WSOY already in October, when Oksanen and 11 other WSOY authors sent a letter to the board of Sanoma Corporation, which owns both WSOY and Helsingin Sanomat, expressing sharp criticism of the actions of the publishing company’s directors.
The signatories complained of poor marketing and of denigrating the views of the authors.
On October 28th last year, a column by Oksanen was printed in Helsingin Sanomat, in which she accused WSOY of indifference, saying that she does not like “...that the people dealing with my books work under agonising conditions, and that they are being bounced around mindlessly, or that the threat of being sacked is constantly dangling above their necks”.
WSOY’s decision is considered exceptional by those familiar with the publishing business in Finland.
“I don’t recall hearing of any similar situation”, says Minna Castrén, head of publishing of general literature at Otava Publishers.
She says that sometimes a publisher will reject manuscripts, leading to an end of cooperation. This was not the case with WSOY.
The sentiments are echoed by Hannu Harju, head of publishing at Tammi Publishers. “All publishers try to avoid this kind of thing, and it suggests that relations have become inflamed.
As the most successful Finnish author of recent years, Oksanen is in the unusual position of not having a publisher. However, she is not expected to have any difficulties in finding a new one.
Both Otava and Tammi indicated a willingness to take on Oksanen. However, Castrén notes that this would require a willingness on the part of both the publisher and the author.
Previously in HS International Edition:
BREAKING NEWS: WSOY Publishers drop Sofi Oksanen (15.6.2010)
Sofi Oksanen named Person of the Year in Estonia (18.12.2009)
Sofi Oksanen commissioned to write new play for National Theatre (18.5.2010)
Finlandia Prize goes to Sofi Oksanen and portrait of Estonia under Soviet occupation (5.12.2008)
Sofi Oksanen (Wikipedia)
Sofi Oksanen (WSOY Publishers website)
NPR website (book review of Purge novel)